Wall Street was slightly lower in muted trading on Wednesday as a fall in materials stocks offset gains in energy shares, a day after all three major indexes recorded their best day in more than a month.
Crude prices recovered from earlier losses and were little changed from Tuesday.
A report on Wednesday showed the U.S. private sector added more jobs than expected in February, adding to recent upbeat data that underscored the strength in the U.S. economy.
The report by payrolls processor ADP serves as a precursor to the more comprehensive monthly jobs report by the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.
"We're in a holding pattern until Friday, when we get the payrolls number," said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Phoenix, Arizona.
"There's still a lot of money out there that's looking for a home and if we continue to get good economic data, it is going to be positive for stock markets here," he said.
U.S. stocks surged on Tuesday, driven partly by encouraging factory and construction data, helping the S&P 500 claw back most of its losses from the last two months.
At 12:41 p.m. ET (1741 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 15.15 points, or 0.09 percent, at 16,849.93, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 1.67 points, or 0.08 percent, at 1,976.68 and the Nasdaq Composite index .IXIC was down 12.71 points, or 0.27 percent, at 4,676.88.
Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, led by the materials sector's .SPLRCM 0.84 percent decline.
Shares of Monsanto (MON.N) were down 7.8 percent at $85.25 after the company slashed its 2016 profit forecast. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500.
The U.S. economy continues to show signs of recovery even as China and euro-zone countries struggle to spark their sputtering economic growth engines, pushing central banks to adopt diverging monetary policies.
Investors are increasingly facing the prospects of higher interest rates from the U.S. Federal Reserve, while also expecting more monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank and the People's Bank of China.
The Fed will also issue its Beige Book report of anecdotes on business activity at 2 p.m. ET.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,596 to 1,361. On the Nasdaq, 1,477 issues rose and 1,187 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed five new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 20 new highs and 20 new lows.
(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)
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